Sanitation innovator wins Stockholm Water Prize

Sulabh‘s founder, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, was recently named the 2009 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.  Sulabh has been working for decades to address sanitation, health, and hygiene in India and other countries.  Through inventive toilet designs, new biogas technologies, and his struggle for human rights, especially for those of the “untouchable” caste, Dr Pathak is recognized worldwide as an innovator and social reformer. A Business Standard article explains further:

The social reformer, who triggered the revolution against ‘sanitation crisis’, has been the main force behind changing social attitudes towards traditional unsanitary latrine practices in slums, rural villages and dense urban districts, and developed cost-effective toilet systems that have improved daily life and health for millions of people.

Dr Pathak will receive the award in Stockholm during World Water Week in August.

Quiz: India’s most Innovative company?

Here is the quiz:  Which of the following Indian organizations made it to the Fast Company’s list of 50 most Innovative companies in the world?

1. Infosys
2. Wipro
3. Dr. Reddys Labs
4. Aravind Eye Care System

The answer is 4. Aravind Eye Care System! Its remarkable. Aravind is the only Indian organization in the Fast Company 50 list and shares the honors with many other with others like Google, Cisco, Intel, Apple and the Obama Campaign (Yes, you heard me right!)

Below is the excerpt from Fast Company:

The network of not-for-profit hospitals and vision centers performs 300,000 eye surgeries each year — 70% for free — using broadband connections to on-call doctors in city hospitals for instant diagnosis. Camps in rural areas screen thousands of patients weekly. “We are going from village to village to provide eye care to the unreached,” says Aravind’s chairman, Dr. P. Namperumalsamy. Aravind won the 2008 Gates Award for Global Health.

Well, the folks in the Indian media need to take note. We have never seen Aravind in the list of India’s Most Innovative Companies in the past (where it rightfully belongs)

Click here to see our previous coverage on Aravind.

Inching towards ending polio

The Final Inch is a documentary funded by Google.org and produced by Vermilion Pictures, chronicling the final stages of the global fight to end polio. A large chunk of the movie was filmed in India, given that the country is the final frontier in the global effort to eradicate polio. There were 496 confirmed cases of polio in 2008 in India, accounting for 35 percent of all cases worldwide.

The documentary profiles the real heroes – the foot soldiers who are mobilized to deliver the doses of polio vaccine to young children.  India’s progress towards eradicating polio also highlights the relentless effort of the Indian government in undertaking the largest vaccination program in the world.

The Final Inch will be screened on HBO in 2009, and you can expect the DVDs to be out soon. In the meantime, enjoy the trailer:

The Experiment: E-Medicine in Rural Gujarat

Under the auspices of its “e-gram” initiative, which intends to connect all villages through broadband, the Gujarat government has launched an e-medicine scheme for rural areas.  The objective of the scheme is to “offer online and telemedicine facilities to villagers,” specifically through the installation of web cameras and other infrastructure. 

Said Health Minister Jay Narayan Vyas:

We are waiting for the panchayat department to cover all 18,000 villages in the state under the e-gram initiative. Once this is done, we are planning to use the broadband connectivity to initiate an e-medicine programme wherein we will set up e-cardio testing and e-diagnosis facilities. All villages will have these facilities over a period of two years.

Through video conferencing, doctors at a distant hospital will be able to diagnose villagers for basic ailments and prescribe medicines online. The printout of the prescription will be available at the community service centres set up by the department. 

This proposal raises a number of questions – even though the state government of Gujarat has set aside 4% of its total budget for the health sector, is funding all that is needed in order to implement such schemes?  Granted, physical infrastructure is required in order for the scheme to be operational, but how will training be provided to local medical practitioners?  Where will these services be made available?  Through PHCs?  Private clinics?  How will this equipment be maintained over time?  How much will these services cost, and how effective will diagnoses be?  Has this program been piloted in other rural areas?  Most fundamentally, how will e-diagnoses be effective when stable access to electricity isn’t even guaranteed in most parts of rural India?

The scheme is an ambitious and admirable one, but I remain skeptical as to feasibility given human and physical resource constraints.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia

TC-I Tidbits

  • Health:
    • Soon, every mother that registers at a primary health center will receive a smart card with their photo ID that tracks the medical history of their family.
    • India is among the worst hit by the health worker shortage that is occurring around the world. Moreover, the gap between urban and rural areas is even wider. According to the article, “a Planning Commission document had recently said India was short of six lakh doctors, 10 lakh nurses and two lakh dental surgeons. For every 10,000 Indians, there was one doctor.”
  • Education: The Government of India is planning to set up seven Regional Innovation Science Hubs for Inventors (RISHI) to promote innovation and encourage youngsters to take up a career in science and technology. [Source: iGovernment]
  • Housing: Over the next five years, over 500,000 low-rent homes will be built in the Mumbai metropolitan area under the Slum Prevention Programme.

TC-I Tidbits

You daily dose of headlines:

  • Health, Women and Mortality:The lack of inclusion of midwives within the National Rural Health Mission is highlighted as one of the main reasons for the high maternal mortality rate in India.
  • Education: Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (WNTA) continued to push the government to pass the Right to Education Bill.
  • Public Awareness: Swagat Thorat, a freelance journalist, has started a new magazine in braille for the visually impaired.
  • CSR: The government is looking to establish a corporate affairs institute that will look at various practices, including corporate social responsibility. In related news, the government has awarded the Rural Electrification Corporation with the Navrtna award honoring its ongoing work in expanding access to electricity to the rural poor.
  • Microinsurance: IFFCO-TOKIO General Insurance Co. Ltd. (ITGI) has created a new microinsurance product that targets India’s low income rural population.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Health: Over 53% children in India under five years – that is, 67 million – live without basic healthcare facilities. This means that India alone accounts for about one-third of all children in the world aged below five who don’t have basic healthcare. [Source: Times of India]
  • Education: There is a shortage of teachers at central universities, with 20 per cent of teaching posts being vacant since October. The government will raise the age for pension schemes, and a committee will review the pay scale to address the issue.
  • Energy: With low-interest loans for solar power from Canara Bank and Syndicate Bank, more than 100,000 people in rural Karnataka benefit from affordable and reliable electricity. The program was subsidized by the United Nations Environment Programme.